Thankful donation thankyous of the week: Dave, a fellow speedy Goodgym-er; Chris Adams, who could be one of several Chris Adams I seem to know; and my lil’ sister Amy and her fella Leo, who got around to counting the donation pot they put up at work and supplemented it to make A Lot Of Money. I’ve now broken the fifteen hundred mark in the fundraising, which is just epic. Massive, sincere thanks to you all.
Also, going to throw a quick congratulations out there to one of my more prominent internet fans, Sean ‘Tin Man’ Mackin, who completed Ironman UK yesterday in 13:46:57. Pretty impressive for guy who was at last check aiming for an effort somewhere around fifteen hours (I think), and spends half his life fretting that I do more training than he does. It’s because I have no commitments, and a very marginalised social life. Screw it, I’m not proud.
Sunday night. I’m sat in my room with a half-eaten chicken kebab on the desk, that is just a little too succulent/clodgy to finish. Yes, clodgy is a word. No, I have not decided on which side of the succulent/clodgy divide the kebab sits – this is, perhaps, the first indication that I am in trouble here. On the other side of the room, a beautiful TT bike lounges, sprawled somewhere between floor and wall, one flat tire, like a beautiful parisian whore that you’ve just gone and given the clap to. There, you ruined it (in a way that it’s probably been ruined thousands of times); are you happy now, son?
Above is the only paragraph of this I wrote before I passed out somewhere the wrong side of one AM this morning. Man, my half-cut thought processes are weird.
Just, y’know, thought I’d share that.
Monday: Rest day
Tuesday: 1 hr 20 mins running
Wednesday: 45 mins swimming
Thursday: 1 hr 30 mins turbo
Friday: 30 mins turbo
Saturday: 20 mins running
Sunday: 30 mins swimming/1 hr 10 mins cycling/40 mins running Thorpe Park Olympic Triathlon
While I was completely aware that this was a race week – what with it being a league race, and me being league Captain and all – I still managed to end up completely blindsided by this development. I’m blaming this on my housing situation, which is hovering in an awkward stage of nearly-but-not-quite, and demanding far more of my attention that I could do with right now. But hey, that’s life. No training plan ever survived contact with real life in one piece.
This being my first standard distance triathlon, I wasn’t entirely sure how to pace it properly. My target: two hours and twenty minutes, working on the basis of a half hour swim (I reasoned that I could probably cover one hundred metres every two minutes comfortably, minus sighting issues but plus a bit more effort than usual); an hour and ten minute bike split (about a mile per hour faster than my Ironman pace, but on a road I knew had a suspect surface in places); and a forty minute run (where I would remind myself that I’m a competent athlete). I had been fairly confident of achieving this goal up until a few days before the race, when my brain did the perfectly expected and started overthinking and casting doubt over Every. Little. Thing. Dammit brain, can’t you just be happy for me for once? Why you gotta be so Ornery?
3am on Sunday morning found me waking up, already wearing most of my race kit. Who’s got time to bother getting dressed at 3am? Not an athlete, that’s who. There were far more important things to be doing, like social media-ing and trying to figure out how I could load myself up with the most amount of spare kit one person could possibly (un)safely cycle a couple of miles to the coach pickup with. I’ll be damned if any of my charges were going to race bereft of race belts, goggles or cable ties.
One very hairy bike ride and coach ride later, and we found ourselves at Thorpe Park, the location of the day’s race. This was where the usual flapping about happened, as I tried to do far more prep work in an hour than my body is capable of. In such a rush, I ended up tearing my wetsuit in two places; nothing some Black Witch won’t fix, but an irritant nonetheless.
A very sudden start led to a frenetic few hundred metres at the start of the swim, before I got summarily dropped by the lead packs and found a bit of space. Luckily enough, it being our club championships and co-hosting the race meant that Chaser attendance was so high we had the first start wave all to ourselves, so the swim was perhaps not quite so adversarial as it might otherwise have been. I found myself in a pod of four or five clubmates, and we all seemed to take turns leading as I pushed the pace, then got lost when my goggles fogged up, and managed to rejoin the group as we were all caught in a comical amount of weeds in the lake; and, finally, a sprint to the swim exit.
Why do they always stick photographers for the bike section at the top of hills? It really hacks me off. For once, I’d just like a good picture of me looking fast in aero. Is that too much to ask?
A very swift transition was followed by a complete hash of an attempt at a flying mount, as I’d forgotten to actually scope out the bike mount line and it came about fifty metres before I was prepared for it. Wearing all of the compression gear and my Mirrored Twat Visor, I must have looked like a royal plonker. Dammit brain, stop being right.
The first fifteen minutes of the bike felt like really hard going, until I remembered that I’d actually forked out an extra four hundred quid more than planned for a plush gearing mechanism when I bought Agro. Once I changed down a couple of gears, I began to fly. Clearing a fair few Chasers cyclists, I was surprised to find myself gliding past a few riders who, six months ago, would have been leaving me well and truly in the dust. It feels kind of bad to be taking pride at having overtaken training partners and clubmates, but I can’t deny that it gave me a kick of motivation.
The motivation was sorely needed, as well, with a course that was significantly less flat than I thought it would be. I train a lot in the general area, so I knew some bits of the course and where the roads would be a bit rougher, but I wasn’t quite ready for the amount of rolling hills – most often short and not especially sharp, but when you’re riding a 53 big ring (to the initiated, that’s the number of teeth on the big ring of my front chain sprocket, and it’s designed for lots of power on flat and fast bits but really unsuited to climbing), navigating a speed bump feels a bit like climbing Everest.
I think, seriously, that might be my favourite race photo to date. No-one has ever made compression sleeves look cool, but I like to think in this moment I came pretty close. A very, VERY over-cooked dismount following my useless mount, and it was time to get my serious face on, and sprint off into the… oh what… wait… oh. Bugger. Usually, I’m strong off the bike to the run – it’s something I have worked very hard on, and preach the values of to anyone who will listen (and several who won’t). Maybe it was the cloying (definitely a word) heat, but I felt super lousy for the first ten minutes of the run. I knew that I had more or less exactly forty minutes to run the ten kilometres in order to hit my goal time.
Writing about running can be dry, but when you’re the one doing the running, these kind of situations are real high drama moments. The first lap was painful but tolerable, but I did catch myself wondering how exactly I was going to hold my pace for another two laps as I trotted through the currently deserted theme park (really weird, in case you’re wondering). And so it became time to put some pain-management practises into effect.
Pain management took two forms. The second lap was spent repeating the mantra ‘You can hurt worse than anyone else’ over and over in my head, reminding myself that as a former self-harmer, I knew I could tolerate a fair amount of pain. Suck it up kiddo, run through all the park employees lining the route having a pre-work fag, one more lap to go.
On the third lap, I just tried to be a bit more vocal than usual – bearing in mind that social anxiety means my usual mid race verbal state is quieter than a Catholic monastery (barring the gasping, grunting and heaving). Figuring that it’d help keep my mind off the facts that my legs were threatening to eject themselves from my torso at any moment, I spent the out and back yelling at the fellow Chasers on the course with a slightly – slightly – improved regularity, and even offered encouragement to a couple of other competitors; including the guy from Black Line London, who I have a fondness for because they have really cool kit and were the only other cyclists who spoke a word to me for the entirety of my horrendously-begun long training ride of solitude a fortnight ago. As I sprinted towards the finish, some park visitors had been let in, leading to a bit of a game of Frogger as they decided to ignore the course markings and just wander across the run route. Cheers guys. No matter, after almost sprinting headfirst into a barrier, I did eventually cross the line, and into the steely arms of a masseuse who promptly disavowed me of the notion that I might be able to handle pain better than other people by digging her freakishly strong thumbs straight into my quads, leading me to give out the world’s most girly whimper and be told to ‘just concentrate on [my] breathing’.
2:18:16. After missing my goal time by over a minute in the Thames Turbo sprint earlier in the year, and then missing my goal time by about forty five minutes after limping over the finish line at Deva, I have finally done a Tri this year that I exceeded my targets in – and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with Ironman Kalmar now just around the corner. Have you noticed that the calendar on the countdown (top right) changed from months to weeks, and has now changed from weeks to days? Some kind of apotheosis looms on the horizon. This was a welcome affirmation that my training is reaping a lot of dividends.
Let’s break it down. First things first: I managed to shave my legs without half as much blood as last time, which is a result. Moving on. The swim official time is 30:23 – I actually measured it 30:13 on my watch, which was started as the klaxon went and stopped halfway towards the transition entrance, so I think in terms of total swim time I must have been pretty much exactly 30 minutes. Bingo. Other than a hairy five minutes when my goggles steamed up, my sighting was much improved after my switch to a more regular check last week, and – lo and behold – I managed to spend a significant amount of the course drafting other swimmers in my little pod! Great work, team.
My bike leg pacing seemed to work fairly well. I have settled on the idea that I should have four triathlon effort levels for the bike: for the Ironman I don’t want to feel my legs at all, for a Half Ironman I should be vaguely aware that they exist, an Olympic I should be putting some pain through them, and a sprint I should be making a face like Ahhhnold when he’s strapped into the brain machine in Total Recall. I managed to post a bike split yesterday with a marginally faster average speed than I posted at the Thames Turbo sprint in May, so I think I’ve probably put on a bit of power, which is good. Also I may not have pushed hard enough in the Thames Turbo. Also I may have pushed too hard yesterday. Either way, a 1:07:55 is very acceptable; I think if I’d have not fluffed my mount and not de-shoed myself far too early before the dismount, this probably could have been a minute quicker. Eh.
The run was maybe a minute slower than I envisaged it being – first world problems, I know – but a pretty strong effort considering the heat. By about nine in the morning, which was when most of the Chasers and myself were pottering about on the run course, it was already twenty degrees celsius with almost 80% air humidity (part of my role as league Captain means obsessively studying MetOffice). Lending credence to the plan to let Sweden’s Ironman-mad supporters carry me to an unfathomably fast marathon in Kalmar, I can safely say that there’s no way I’d have gone made it around the run nearly as fast if it were not for the megaphone-toting Chasers support, with marshalls, relay team competitors and those who just turned up to watch offering some much needed platitudes around the course.
Chasers. Ah, the Chasers. I have waxed on before about what a bunch my triathlon club are in the wake of last year’s club championships, but I feel that it bears repeating at this juncture. The twin C’s were everywhere at this race; including relay teams, we made up over somewhere around one hundred of the four hundred and fifty plus competitors. As league Captain is was partly my responsibility to get warm bodies to the start line, but I’m not going to claim that that number is entirely my doing. Everyone went at the race with all they had, and produced some results that might just keep me in a job at least until the end of the year (cheers guys). As mentioned, the on the day support was also a lifeline to myself and I’m sure to many others, and I can happily finish this paragraph by claiming with confidence that if baking was the fourth triathlon discipline, we’d already have this league nailed down. Never has such strong cake game been seen at the finish line of a triathlon.
Not just in the race itself, but throughout the last few months, the Chasers have been a constant positive influence on my haphazard attempts to paint myself as some kind of ultra-athlete. Although I’ve dropped off the map a bit training-wise as I’ve been approaching Kalmar, they continue to be some of the most welcoming and enthusiastic people I’ve met; from giving me last-minute tyre advice regarding my panicking that was not only detailed but had a lot of hard data and evidence to back it up (cheers Tim), to spending the afternoon drinking and chatting shit in the weird rain/cloud/heat/sun of Woking (happy birthday Katie, and Dalany, and Vix), to painting me as some kind of in-race evacuation guru at the evening post-race social (I’m not even name-shaming you lot, you strange people).
To be labeled by some of these people with stickers like ‘inspirational’, and to be highlighted for the work I put into promoting the London League races – largely writing the world’s longest pre-race tips, and waking up at 3am to remind people to brush their teeth – really, I can’t state what an honour it feels, and how worried I am for these people’s sanity. Please, guys. I just spent ten minutes instructing otherwise functional adults on the most efficient ways to wet themselves. This is not a man you want your kids to aspire to be.
Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!